I am not sure why, but among all the things that I’ve thought about, aphasia has been low on my list. I was well aware that if Kate lives long enough she would not communicate, but I didn’t think that she would begin this process now.
She has had some minor difficulty with her speech for about a year. The problem is progressing more rapidly now. Everyday words like pizza, olives, and hamburger are beginning to drop out of her vocabulary. Sometimes I joke about being her butler. She no longer knows what a butler is. Yesterday, I pointed to a fence that is being installed around a nearby hospital. She said, “What’s a fence?” At lunch, she saw her napkin and said, “What’s this?” I told her it was her napkin. She said, “What do I do with it?”
Some things are understandable. The other night we had dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant. She wanted a dessert and asked what they had. I told her they had baklava. She had no idea what that was even after I brought a piece to her. That is not something that is an everyday part of her vocabulary, so I’m not surprised that word is lost.
Quite often she knows what she wants to say but says the wrong word. A couple of days ago, she said, “I don’t want to swim.” She meant “I don’t want to sing.” While working on her iPad last week, she said, “I got two boys. She meant two puzzle pieces. Another time, she was joking with me and said, “I’m going to put it on your bed.” She meant my head. Another time, she said, “I want to yell you something” instead of tell you something. If I could remember, the list would go on and on.
It goes beyond her vocabulary. She is also beginning to struggle putting words together to communicate what she wants to say. She often starts to tell me something but stops because she doesn’t know how to express it. She looks to me to know. Sometimes I do, but often, I don’t.
So, how do I feel about this change? As you would expect, I am disturbed. Alzheimer’s began to affect our conversation very early. That was related to her memory loss. Since she could not remember things, she was left with little to say. For a good while now, she has talked more, but the conversation always revolves around a set of familiar things. We recite these over and over. Despite the repetition, I enjoy being able to converse with her no matter what we talk about. I especially enjoy seeing the pleasure she gets out of it as well. The thought about her losing this ability is one I don’t want to face.
Having said that, I stop and think about how well we have gotten along so far. It really is possible to enjoy ourselves without her having a memory. It would have been quite different if she had also lost her sight, hearing, and feelings for people and the world around her. That has carried us a long way. To adapt a phrase from “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” I hope it will “carry us home.”